From Ipoh to London: First Indigenous Semai Graduate of UCL with First-class Honours Degree Marches On

Hailing from Ipoh, Susherrie Suki’s recent graduation at University College London (UCL) marked a number of historic firsts: she became the first Indigenous Semai to graduate from the top university complete with a first-class honours degree.

Ipoh Echo caught up with the 23-year-old in order to learn more about her inspirational journey.

Feeling very grateful and honoured, Sherrie expressed, “This milestone is important to me personally for my academic/career progression. At the same time, it is an important milestone for my community, proving that we too can succeed in an international university like any other race and ethnicity.”

The alumnus of SJK/SMJK Ave Maria Convent in Ipoh, completed a 3-year degree in Urban Planning and Real Estate which was funded by MARA (People’s Trust Council): “I realised I wanted to be an urban planner after researching the course and the career pathway I could take after completing it. I am very much an enthusiastic person when talking about buildings, urban design and policy-making.”

“At that time, the Bartlett Faculty of Built Environment of UCL was the first in the world and I never expected to be chosen as there were strict quotas on the number of applicants they could accept,” she reflected.

Regarding her best memories on campus throughout these 3 years, Sherrie enthused, “The friendships I made during my studies is one of my most precious experiences. Also travelling! Due to COVID, travelling to Europe was significantly cheaper during the last few months and we were able to get £10 plane tickets to the most random parts of Europe with friends.”

When asked on the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, she recalled, “Online learning had been a challenge. We had restricted access to a lot of reading resources, we couldn’t go to libraries for books, do group work in person or use university facilities because all had been closed down. I had to go home for one semester at the end of my first year so I had to sleep very late to attend classes/seminars and for group work due to the time zone difference. It was certainly an interesting time and I am glad we are past that!”

Constantly marching on, she is presently continuing her studies at UCL for her Master’s: “I specialise in urban design in particular because I am very interested in the idea of place-making where communities are involved in the making of spaces or areas.”

“I am planning to take an accreditation exam to become a chartered town planner. Since one is eligible to take the exam after 2 years of working experience, I am hoping to find a graduate job in the UK to prepare myself for it. Once I get my accreditation here, I am aiming to go back home and obtain a Malaysia accreditation. I want to use the skill set that I gain in Malaysia,” the amiable Sherrie pointed out.

She cited her parents as her biggest motivation as she keeps moving forward in life: “Growing up, I always saw my parents working hard in their jobs to raise us yet at the same time they would never fail to check on us. This motivates me to give back something to them. My mother passed away in 2015 right before my SPM examination. I study day and night as a gift for her.”

“Achieving first-class honours is just the first step. I am excited about what and where my future will take me,” she continued.

Here is her advice for aspiring students who wish to major in Planning and its related fields: “Our life has always revolved around planning; the pavement we walk, the public transport we use and the road we drive on are all part of city planning. To major in Planning, you’ll need a lot of passion and interest in cities, design and buildings as there is a lot of reading that we have to go through daily.”

Highlighting the importance of good time management in juggling between studies and social life, she advised, “Always make time for your social life to avoid stress in your studies. If you are introverted like me, dedicate that to your hobby. I believe having a balanced lifestyle is important!”

What does she miss most about Ipoh? “The food, especially kopitiam’s (traditional coffee shop). I just miss all the white coffee and roti kaya (toast); the complete set of breakfast is what I am dreaming of every morning. I also miss the Hakka noodles which I used to always get as takeaway after school. The list of food is endless – I have a list of restaurants/cafes that I am planning to visit when I go back home soon,” Sherrie enthused.

by Tan Mei Kuan

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